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Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Chapters 16 to 20

Mark Twain

  Produced by David Widger


  By Mark Twain

  Part 4.


  WE slept most all day, and started out at night, a little ways behind amonstrous long raft that was as long going by as a procession. She hadfour long sweeps at each end, so we judged she carried as many as thirtymen, likely. She had five big wigwams aboard, wide apart, and an opencamp fire in the middle, and a tall flag-pole at each end. There was apower of style about her. It AMOUNTED to something being a raftsman onsuch a craft as that.

  We went drifting down into a big bend, and the night clouded up and gothot. The river was very wide, and was walled with solid timber on bothsides; you couldn't see a break in it hardly ever, or a light. We talkedabout Cairo, and wondered whether we would know it when we got to it. Isaid likely we wouldn't, because I had heard say there warn't but about adozen houses there, and if they didn't happen to have them lit up, howwas we going to know we was passing a town? Jim said if the two bigrivers joined together there, that would show. But I said maybe we mightthink we was passing the foot of an island and coming into the same oldriver again. That disturbed Jim--and me too. So the question was, whatto do? I said, paddle ashore the first time a light showed, and tellthem pap was behind, coming along with a trading-scow, and was a greenhand at the business, and wanted to know how far it was to Cairo. Jimthought it was a good idea, so we took a smoke on it and waited.

  There warn't nothing to do now but to look out sharp for the town, andnot pass it without seeing it. He said he'd be mighty sure to see it,because he'd be a free man the minute he seen it, but if he missed ithe'd be in a slave country again and no more show for freedom. Everylittle while he jumps up and says:

  "Dah she is?"

  But it warn't. It was Jack-o'-lanterns, or lightning bugs; so he setdown again, and went to watching, same as before. Jim said it made himall over trembly and feverish to be so close to freedom. Well, I cantell you it made me all over trembly and feverish, too, to hear him,because I begun to get it through my head that he WAS most free--and whowas to blame for it? Why, ME. I couldn't get that out of my conscience,no how nor no way. It got to troubling me so I couldn't rest; I couldn'tstay still in one place. It hadn't ever come home to me before, whatthis thing was that I was doing. But now it did; and it stayed with me,and scorched me more and more. I tried to make out to myself that Iwarn't to blame, because I didn't run Jim off from his rightful owner;but it warn't no use, conscience up and says, every time, "But you knowedhe was running for his freedom, and you could a paddled ashore and toldsomebody." That was so--I couldn't get around that noway. That waswhere it pinched. Conscience says to me, "What had poor Miss Watson doneto you that you could see her nigger go off right under your eyes andnever say one single word? What did that poor old woman do to you thatyou could treat her so mean? Why, she tried to learn you your book, shetried to learn you your manners, she tried to be good to you every wayshe knowed how. THAT'S what she done."

  I got to feeling so mean and so miserable I most wished I was dead. Ifidgeted up and down the raft, abusing myself to myself, and Jim wasfidgeting up and down past me. We neither of us could keep still. Everytime he danced around and says, "Dah's Cairo!" it went through me like ashot, and I thought if it WAS Cairo I reckoned I would die ofmiserableness.

  Jim talked out loud all the time while I was talking to myself. He wassaying how the first thing he would do when he got to a free State hewould go to saving up money and never spend a single cent, and when hegot enough he would buy his wife, which was owned on a farm close towhere Miss Watson lived; and then they would both work to buy the twochildren, and if their master wouldn't sell them, they'd get anAb'litionist to go and steal them.

  It most froze me to hear such talk. He wouldn't ever dared to talk suchtalk in his life before. Just see what a difference it made in him theminute he judged he was about free. It was according to the old saying,"Give a nigger an inch and he'll take an ell." Thinks I, this is whatcomes of my not thinking. Here was this nigger, which I had as good ashelped to run away, coming right out flat-footed and saying he wouldsteal his children--children that belonged to a man I didn't even know; aman that hadn't ever done me no harm.

  I was sorry to hear Jim say that, it was such a lowering of him. Myconscience got to stirring me up hotter than ever, until at last I saysto it, "Let up on me--it ain't too late yet--I'll paddle ashore at thefirst light and tell." I felt easy and happy and light as a featherright off. All my troubles was gone. I went to looking out sharp for alight, and sort of singing to myself. By and by one showed. Jim singsout:

  "We's safe, Huck, we's safe! Jump up and crack yo' heels! Dat's de goodole Cairo at las', I jis knows it!"

  I says:

  "I'll take the canoe and go and see, Jim. It mightn't be, you know."

  He jumped and got the canoe ready, and put his old coat in the bottom forme to set on, and give me the paddle; and as I shoved off, he says:

  "Pooty soon I'll be a-shout'n' for joy, en I'll say, it's all on accountso' Huck; I's a free man, en I couldn't ever ben free ef it hadn' ben forHuck; Huck done it. Jim won't ever forgit you, Huck; you's de bes' fren'Jim's ever had; en you's de ONLY fren' ole Jim's got now."

  I was paddling off, all in a sweat to tell on him; but when he says this,it seemed to kind of take the tuck all out of me. I went along slowthen, and I warn't right down certain whether I was glad I started orwhether I warn't. When I was fifty yards off, Jim says:

  "Dah you goes, de ole true Huck; de on'y white genlman dat ever kep' hispromise to ole Jim."

  Well, I just felt sick. But I says, I GOT to do it--I can't get OUT ofit. Right then along comes a skiff with two men in it with guns, andthey stopped and I stopped. One of them says:

  "What's that yonder?"

  "A piece of a raft," I says.

  "Do you belong on it?"

  "Yes, sir."

  "Any men on it?"

  "Only one, sir."

  "Well, there's five niggers run off to-night up yonder, above the head ofthe bend. Is your man white or black?"

  I didn't answer up prompt. I tried to, but the words wouldn't come. Itried for a second or two to brace up and out with it, but I warn't manenough--hadn't the spunk of a rabbit. I see I was weakening; so I justgive up trying, and up and says:

  "He's white."

  "I reckon we'll go and see for ourselves."

  "I wish you would," says I, "because it's pap that's there, and maybeyou'd help me tow the raft ashore where the light is. He's sick--and sois mam and Mary Ann."

  "Oh, the devil! we're in a hurry, boy. But I s'pose we've got to. Come,buckle to your paddle, and let's get along."

  I buckled to my paddle and they laid to their oars. When we had made astroke or two, I says:

  "Pap'll be mighty much obleeged to you, I can tell you. Everybody goesaway when I want them to help me tow the raft ashore, and I can't do itby myself."

  "Well, that's infernal mean. Odd, too. Say, boy, what's the matter withyour father?"

  "It's the--a--the--well, it ain't anything much."

  They stopped pulling. It warn't but a mighty little ways to the raftnow. One says:

  "Boy, that's a lie. What IS the matter with your pap? Answer up squarenow, and it'll be the better for you."

  "I will, sir, I will, honest--but don't leave us, please. It's the--the--Gentlemen, if you'll only pull ahead, and let me heave you theheadline, you won't have to come a-near the raft--please do."

  "Set her back, John, set her back!" says one. They backed water. "Keepaway
, boy--keep to looard. Confound it, I just expect the wind hasblowed it to us. Your pap's got the small-pox, and you know it preciouswell. Why didn't you come out and say so? Do you want to spread it allover?"

  "Well," says I, a-blubbering, "I've told everybody before, and they justwent away and left us."

  "Poor devil, there's something in that. We are right down sorry for you,but we--well, hang it, we don't want the small-pox, you see. Look here,I'll tell you what to do. Don't you try to land by yourself, or you'llsmash everything to pieces. You float along down about twenty miles, andyou'll come to a town on the left-hand side of the river. It will belong after sun-up then, and when you ask for help you tell them yourfolks are all down with chills and fever. Don't be a fool again, and letpeople guess what is the matter. Now we're trying to do you a kindness;so you just put twenty miles between us, that's a good boy. It wouldn'tdo any good to land yonder where the light is--it's only a wood-yard.Say, I reckon your father's poor, and I'm bound to say he's in prettyhard luck. Here, I'll put a twenty-dollar gold piece on this board, andyou get it when it floats by. I feel mighty mean to leave you; but mykingdom! it won't do to fool with small-pox, don't you see?"

  "Hold on, Parker," says the other man, "here's a twenty to put on theboard for me. Good-bye, boy; you do as Mr. Parker told you, and you'llbe all right."

  "That's so, my boy--good-bye, good-bye. If you see any runaway niggersyou get help and nab them, and you can make some money by it."

  "Good-bye, sir," says I; "I won't let no runaway niggers get by me if Ican help it."

  They went off and I got aboard the raft, feeling bad and low, because Iknowed very well I had done wrong, and I see it warn't no use for me totry to learn to do right; a body that don't get STARTED right when he'slittle ain't got no show--when the pinch comes there ain't nothing toback him up and keep him to his work, and so he gets beat. Then Ithought a minute, and says to myself, hold on; s'pose you'd a done rightand give Jim up, would you felt better than what you do now? No, says I,I'd feel bad--I'd feel just the same way I do now. Well, then, says I,what's the use you learning to do right when it's troublesome to do rightand ain't no trouble to do wrong, and the wages is just the same? I wasstuck. I couldn't answer that. So I reckoned I wouldn't bother no moreabout it, but after this always do whichever come handiest at the time.

  I went into the wigwam; Jim warn't there. I looked all around; he warn'tanywhere. I says:


  "Here I is, Huck. Is dey out o' sight yit? Don't talk loud."

  He was in the river under the stern oar, with just his nose out. I toldhim they were out of sight, so he come aboard. He says:

  "I was a-listenin' to all de talk, en I slips into de river en was gwyneto shove for sho' if dey come aboard. Den I was gwyne to swim to de raf'agin when dey was gone. But lawsy, how you did fool 'em, Huck! Dat WUZde smartes' dodge! I tell you, chile, I'spec it save' ole Jim--ole Jimain't going to forgit you for dat, honey."

  Then we talked about the money. It was a pretty good raise--twentydollars apiece. Jim said we could take deck passage on a steamboat now,and the money would last us as far as we wanted to go in the free States.He said twenty mile more warn't far for the raft to go, but he wished wewas already there.

  Towards daybreak we tied up, and Jim was mighty particular about hidingthe raft good. Then he worked all day fixing things in bundles, andgetting all ready to quit rafting.

  That night about ten we hove in sight of the lights of a town away downin a left-hand bend.

  I went off in the canoe to ask about it. Pretty soon I found a man outin the river with a skiff, setting a trot-line. I ranged up and says:

  "Mister, is that town Cairo?"

  "Cairo? no. You must be a blame' fool."

  "What town is it, mister?"

  "If you want to know, go and find out. If you stay here botherin' aroundme for about a half a minute longer you'll get something you won't want."

  I paddled to the raft. Jim was awful disappointed, but I said nevermind, Cairo would be the next place, I reckoned.

  We passed another town before daylight, and I was going out again; but itwas high ground, so I didn't go. No high ground about Cairo, Jim said.I had forgot it. We laid up for the day on a towhead tolerable close tothe left-hand bank. I begun to suspicion something. So did Jim. Isays:

  "Maybe we went by Cairo in the fog that night."

  He says:

  "Doan' le's talk about it, Huck. Po' niggers can't have no luck. Iawluz 'spected dat rattlesnake-skin warn't done wid its work."

  "I wish I'd never seen that snake-skin, Jim--I do wish I'd never laideyes on it."

  "It ain't yo' fault, Huck; you didn' know. Don't you blame yo'self 'boutit."

  When it was daylight, here was the clear Ohio water inshore, sure enough,and outside was the old regular Muddy! So it was all up with Cairo.

  We talked it all over. It wouldn't do to take to the shore; we couldn'ttake the raft up the stream, of course. There warn't no way but to waitfor dark, and start back in the canoe and take the chances. So we sleptall day amongst the cottonwood thicket, so as to be fresh for the work,and when we went back to the raft about dark the canoe was gone!

  We didn't say a word for a good while. There warn't anything to say. Weboth knowed well enough it was some more work of the rattlesnake-skin; sowhat was the use to talk about it? It would only look like we wasfinding fault, and that would be bound to fetch more bad luck--and keepon fetching it, too, till we knowed enough to keep still.

  By and by we talked about what we better do, and found there warn't noway but just to go along down with the raft till we got a chance to buy acanoe to go back in. We warn't going to borrow it when there warn'tanybody around, the way pap would do, for that might set people after us.

  So we shoved out after dark on the raft.

  Anybody that don't believe yet that it's foolishness to handle asnake-skin, after all that that snake-skin done for us, will believeit now if they read on and see what more it done for us.

  The place to buy canoes is off of rafts laying up at shore. But wedidn't see no rafts laying up; so we went along during three hours andmore. Well, the night got gray and ruther thick, which is the nextmeanest thing to fog. You can't tell the shape of the river, and youcan't see no distance. It got to be very late and still, and then alongcomes a steamboat up the river. We lit the lantern, and judged she wouldsee it. Up-stream boats didn't generly come close to us; they go out andfollow the bars and hunt for easy water under the reefs; but nights likethis they bull right up the channel against the whole river.

  We could hear her pounding along, but we didn't see her good till she wasclose. She aimed right for us. Often they do that and try to see howclose they can come without touching; sometimes the wheel bites off asweep, and then the pilot sticks his head out and laughs, and thinks he'smighty smart. Well, here she comes, and we said she was going to try andshave us; but she didn't seem to be sheering off a bit. She was a bigone, and she was coming in a hurry, too, looking like a black cloud withrows of glow-worms around it; but all of a sudden she bulged out, big andscary, with a long row of wide-open furnace doors shining like red-hotteeth, and her monstrous bows and guards hanging right over us. Therewas a yell at us, and a jingling of bells to stop the engines, a powwowof cussing, and whistling of steam--and as Jim went overboard on one sideand I on the other, she come smashing straight through the raft.

  I dived--and I aimed to find the bottom, too, for a thirty-foot wheel hadgot to go over me, and I wanted it to have plenty of room. I couldalways stay under water a minute; this time I reckon I stayed under aminute and a half. Then I bounced for the top in a hurry, for I wasnearly busting. I popped out to my armpits and blowed the water out ofmy nose, and puffed a bit. Of course there was a booming current; and ofcourse that boat started her engines again ten seconds after she stoppedthem, for they never cared much for raftsmen; so now she was churningalong up the river, out
of sight in the thick weather, though I couldhear her.

  I sung out for Jim about a dozen times, but I didn't get any answer; so Igrabbed a plank that touched me while I was "treading water," and struckout for shore, shoving it ahead of me. But I made out to see that thedrift of the current was towards the left-hand shore, which meant that Iwas in a crossing; so I changed off and went that way.

  It was one of these long, slanting, two-mile crossings; so I was a goodlong time in getting over. I made a safe landing, and clumb up the bank.I couldn't see but a little ways, but I went poking along over roughground for a quarter of a mile or more, and then I run across a bigold-fashioned double log-house before I noticed it. I was going to rushby and get away, but a lot of dogs jumped out and went to howling andbarking at me, and I knowed better than to move another peg.